6 Ways Warehouse Stores Get You to Spend Too Much

Ever stop at Costco for milk, oranges and canned goods and walk out with a trampoline? Here’s how to counteract a warehouse store’s tricks of the trade.


Everything is larger than life at Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club: product sizes, shelves, even the shopping carts.

Whether you’re a family stocking the pantry on a budget or a soccer coach looking for post-game snacks in bulk, you can trundle some killer deals out the door.

Yet we also have to remember that like any other retailer, warehouse stores stay in business because they know how to part us from our dollars.

Following are six tips to avoid being trapped by warehouse stores’ tricks of the trade.

1. Ignore ‘warehouse’ decor

The floors are concrete. The beams are exposed. Stuff is stacked on plain metal shelving or on pallets.

Here’s what that spartan appearance says to us consumers: “They don’t waste money on décor and carpeting and Muzak, so we’re bound to get unbelievable deals.”

Generally, that’s true. Just make sure that fear of missing a great price doesn’t keep you from doing the math. Remember, too, that low prices might tempt us to buy stuff we don’t strictly need.

2. Remember that you are paying extra

Part of the reason we pay less is that we pay each year for the privilege of walking through the door. The annual fee offsets some of our savings.

Generally speaking, the membership fee will easily pay for itself, especially if you’re purchasing basics like over-the-counter medications, gasoline, tires, meat, dairy products and pet food. (See “10 Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs” for more information.)

At times you can get a better deal at regular stores, especially when combining sales and coupons. (Hint: Sites like CouponMom.com and regional coupon blogs will do all the legwork.)

However, getting a pretty good price consistently at the warehouse likely beats getting super prices every so often and so-so deals the rest of the time at supermarkets and drugstores. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to fuss with coupons, warehouse stores might be for you.

3. Don’t buy food you can’t eat

Large quantities are the hallmark of warehouse stores. But even if you really like an item, be honest: Are you going to be able to consume that much bagged salad, cookies or whatever?

Put another way: I love grape tomatoes. They make a wonderful snack and of course they’re delicious in salads. But we probably couldn’t finish several pounds of the things before they rotted.

If you’re throwing food away, you’re not saving money.

4. Beware the deadly FOMO and WWLT

“Fear of missing out” drives a lot of irrational buying. Knowing that the inventory changes constantly might cause you to pull the trigger on a purchase even if you’re not sure you need/want it.

Just as bad is WWLT: “Wouldn’t (whoever) love that?” You see the camouflage-printed jammies or the hardback mystery novel that would be perfect for someone in your life. (Like, say, yourself.)

Come clean: Have you ever gone to Costco for milk, oranges and canned goods and walked out with a trampoline? It happens.

If it’s something you don’t need, or something you want but can’t pay for right now, then it’s no bargain.

5. Put on your track shoes

As soon as you enter the store, run. Do not be distracted by the bright shiny big-screen televisions, smartphones and all those other pretty toys by the entrance.

If you’ve been wavering about making a purchase like this, the discounted price tag might be enough to convince you. But if that new iWhatever isn’t currently in your budget, you’ve just made another decision: to carry a credit card balance or to withdraw money from savings.

Much better to wait until you’ve saved enough to pay with cash.

6. Be an informed consumer

The same consumer tactics you use everywhere else also apply at warehouse stores: Make a list, compare unit prices, and carry cash vs. plastic.

And once more, with feeling: Learn the difference between wants and needs. Sure, that next-generation smartphone or giant-screen TV might improve your life, but it shouldn’t do so at the expense (so to speak) of your everyday budget.

How do you keep from being snookered into buying more than you really need at a warehouse store? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

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